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Working Your Organization's Network

When an organization has an open position, it typically relies on advertising the job through traditional means, such as on-line job boards and newspaper classifieds. Many organizations, however, overlook one of the most useful resources available to them in the hiring process: their personal and professional networks.

According to a 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Labor, almost half of all job seekers (48 percent) obtain their jobs through referrals. Additionally, numerous publications report that between 60 and 80 percent of executive-level positions are filled through networking or referrals. In fact, the executive search industry in the United States is built upon the premise that senior-level positions are filled through actively making connections with a targeted set of people pre-identified by an organization. The ability to leverage and extend an organization's known relationships—and to market an organization and its opportunities to this group—is key to making networking work as a viable recruitment source.

What's in a Network?

A healthy network is a well-tended network. To ensure that an organization's network will be effective when needed, it is important to define who is in that network. An organizational network consists of a varied group of people, all with some interest in or association with the organization. Networks typically comprise board members, peer and partner organizations, former employees, and even current employees. Collectively, this group represents a huge pool to tap for candidate leads when an organization has an open position.

Although some organizations, such as City Year, look internally to cultivate talent, they also rely on networks for additional leads. "Our emphasis is really on promoting and hiring internal talent, with 80 percent of our hires coming from within," said Elaine Mak, director of talent services at City Year, "but a good portion of our external hires comes from our network, through funders, friends and family, and other contacts."

Networks consist of members acquired through both face-to-face and on-line relationship building. In today's digital age, members of an organization's on-line social network can prove to be especially good at spreading the word about an open position. Web sites such as LinkedIn provide a simple way to reach people in an organization's network who otherwise might be difficult to contact. An organization using its LinkedIn connections can reach a wide range of network members who also probably have broad networks themselves.

Organizations can take advantage of this connectedness by encouraging network members to spread the news of the open position through their wide-reaching on-line networks. "When we tap into our network to find candidates, we especially hear from friends of friends," Mak noted.

Creating Your "Employer Brand"

In addition to knowing who is in their networks, it is crucial that organizations communicate regularly with the members of their respective networks. Keeping in touch with the members of a network, such as sending occasional e-mails with friendly updates on organizational milestones, is important relationship maintenance, whether the organization is hiring next month or not.

Part of the ongoing communication with an organization's network is sharing information that creates overall positive associations about the organization, including what it is like to work there. Commongood Careers' study The Voice of Nonprofit Talent in 2008 suggests that one way organizations can attract more talent is to create a distinct perception of themselves as an employer, essentially an "employer brand." Just as an organization has messages to communicate to funders and constituents, it needs to communicate positive information about itself to potential employees.

"We find that what attracts people to share our open positions with their networks is not necessarily any particular aspect of the position itself but the overall message and reputation of City Year in general," Mak said. "People will often select themselves out if they discover that City Year is not the right fit for them, but the people that do really connect will find the right position eventually. Often they get that information through messages about what it's like to work here and what City Year values in its employees," Mak explained.

How and When to Network

There are many methods to reach members of an organization's network. Sending out information in the newsletter and via e-mail are quick and relatively simple ways to blast out information about new positions. Getting in touch with key contacts by phone or in person can help pinpoint prospective candidates or people who can connect the organization to strong candidates.

"The most successful networking we've found is still through word of mouth," Mak noted. "We use our newsletter, especially our corps member alumni newsletter, to promote job openings, but most of the success we have in networking for hires has been reaching out to individuals and getting them excited about our positions."

There is no wrong time for an organization to start talking to its network about its hiring needs, even if it doesn't currently have open positions. Sometimes the best connections take time to develop, so engaging people early and often is important. That way, when the time is right to make a hire, an organization may already have a short list of potential candidates to contact.

"Our executive director for the D.C. area came through a networking process," Mak said. "He was identified by a board member who referred him to the senior leadership at City Year D.C. and then was sent to me. We had an ongoing conversation for six or seven months about what the right place for him at City Year would be and then successfully placed him as the director of our D.C. branch."

Networking for the Next Great Hire

Some of the best candidates for an open position may be right within your organization's reach. Leveraging your organization's network, whether by contacting its members by e-mail or newsletter, reaching out to them through on-line social networking sites such as LinkedIn, or fostering word-of-mouth communication, can make a difference in the quality and availability of candidates for your next search.

Commongood Careers
© 2008, Commongood Careers

Commongood Careers is a national nonprofit search firm dedicated to helping today's most effective social entrepreneurs hire the best talent. Founded by nonprofit professionals, Commongood Careers offers personalized, engaged services to job seekers and organizations throughout the hiring process as well as access to a wealth of knowledge about careers in the social sector.
Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice